Constitutional Government and Democracy: Theory and Practice in Europe and America

Constitutional Government and Democracy: Theory and Practice in Europe and America

Constitutional Government and Democracy: Theory and Practice in Europe and America

Constitutional Government and Democracy: Theory and Practice in Europe and America

Excerpt

The Fascists have been vanquished and the capacity of constitutional democracy has been once more demonstrated in striking fashion. Yet as this revised edition of Constitutional Government and Democracy goes to press the future seems as uncertain as it did nine years ago, before the United States entered the Second World War. The "unnecessary war,"Winston Churchill has called it. But was it unnecessary? Churchill meant that adequate precautions would have given sufficient warning to Hitler, who was encouraged by a policy of appeasement and vacillation. But how were such precautions to be secured? The failure of the United States and Great Britain to adopt any satisfactory safeguards is no doubt a serious indictment of their constitutional systems, not to speak of the systems of France and other European countries. In some ways it is perhaps as serious an indictment as that of the Weimar Republic when it allowed itself to be overthrown by Hitler. Yet is it not asking too much of a free people that they should calmly envisage the prospect of war? Is it not necessarily the chosen few of exceptional insight who will be prepared to travel so perilous a road?

There would be little need now of recalling these problems, already clearly defined in 1941, were it not for the fact of the conflict between "East and West," that sharp antagonism which has arisen between the United States, Great Britain, France, and their friends on one hand and the Soviet Union and her associates on the other. This conflict is once again a conflict of ideas concerning government, economics, and the good life, but more especially concerning constitutionalism. For while both parties to the global antithesis proclaim themselves champions of "democracy" -- both making it amply clear that they do not mean what the others mean -- it is only the Western powers who insist upon constitutionalism. More especially the basic rights of human beings are central to the Western position -- their right to live without fear of arbitrary arrest and punishment, their right to express themselves freely in accordance with their convictions, and finally their right to work and to enjoy the fruits of their labor. But it is a position which is more easily stated in general terms than applied in concrete and actual politics. Not only are there limits beyond which no community can allow such rights and freedoms to go lest it invite anarchy, but the willingness to condone a lack of agreement on all fundamentals, except on these basic procedures of the democratic process itself, entails risks which may prove fatal in the face of a determined and totalitarian opponent.

In short, the assessment of constitutional democracy in all its ramified manifestations, theoretical and practical, has lost none of its urgency of ten years ago. Continued critical re-examination in the light of new facts and . . .

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